Within Catholic liturgical tradition Jesus Christ is surely the Prince of Tides: Adventide, Christmastide, Passiontide, Paschaltide, Whitsuntide and Hallowtide are recognized by the church as special celebrations of redemptive grace occurring throughout the liturgical year.
During the Middle Ages, in Europe’s chiefly rural culture, work was hard and tedious. Realizing the value of leisure, the church set aside Sundays and some 30 holy days of obligation within the liturgical year, days celebrated with special festivals of worship and merriment. The church forbade manual labor while encouraging games, theatricals, music and song to provide recreation to the human psyche.
Hallowtide was and remains part of the liturgical year, extending from the evening of Oct. 31, the vigil of All Saints Day, through All Souls Day on Nov. 2. The celebration reminds the church militant on earth of its union by baptism and prayer to the church suffering in Purgatory and the church triumphant in heaven. This is the essence of the dogma of the communion of saints. For nothing, not even death, as St. Paul wrote, can separate us from the love of Christ.
At Hallowtide, all the saints in heaven, known and unknown, are venerated and their intercession implored. Relief is then offered the holy souls in purgatory through prayers, indulgences, and special Masses.
During the even (late afternoon or evening) of the vigil of the feast of All Saints — All Hallows in Olde English — children would go “souling”— strolling from door-to-door, singing special “souling” songs about the need to pray for the faithful departed in purgatory, that they might soon enter into heavenly glory.
Grateful housewives rewarded singers with small “souling cakes,” eaten while still warm. These were round loaves of sweet quickbreads or small cakes looking like thick cookies, each marked with a cross of raisins or currants.
Catholic children also used to be taught that Satan loathes being reminded that he has forever lost the divine joy of the beatific vision. Immersed in spiteful arrogance and conceit, the supreme narcissist absolutely detests being laughed at.
By wearing costumes betokening scary ghosts, red-suited devils, and evil witches, children ridiculed death, hell and sin in light of Christ’s resurrection. In time, more secularized societies lost the original Catholic intent. Costumes became scary and Hallowe’en was turned into a fright-fest.
On All Saints’ Day, rejoice with our brothers and sisters now beholding the face of God: Blessed be God in his angels and in his saints!
And on All Souls’ Day, pray for our brothers and sisters, the holy souls in purgatory: Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Medieval Souling Cakes (sweet)
• 1 ½ cup plain flour (sifted)
• ¾ cup sugar
• 1 ½ cubes of butter (diced, then allowed to soften)
• ½ tsp ground cinnamon
• ½ tsp ground mixed spice
• ½ tsp ground nutmeg
• 1 egg (beaten)
• 2 tsp of white wine vinegar
• ½ cup raisins or currants
Preheat oven to 400 F; grease 2 flat cookie sheets: set aside.
In a mixing bowl thoroughly whisk the sifted flour, spices, and sugar. Rub in the diced butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add in the beaten egg and white wine vinegar and mix with a wooden spoon until a firm dough is made. Cover bowl with a towel and place it in the refrigerator for 20 minutes or so.
Flour a working surface and roll out the dough to about ¼ inch thick. With a circular pastry cutter (or, in a pinch, the lid from a mayonnaise jar) cut dough into rounds. Place these rounds on the greased cookie sheets. With the wooden spoon’s handle or with a knife, press or incise a cross shape into the top of each round. Press the raisins or currants into the groove of the cross or press into the quadrants between the lines as desired.
Bake at 400º F until slightly colored. Check after 15 minutes. If they’re not quite done leave them for another 3-5 minutes. This recipe makes 14 soul cakes, best when served warm but they’re also just fine after cooling.
(Sean Wright, an Emmy-nominated television writer, is co-author of “The Sherlock Holmes Cookbook” and a Master Catechist in the archdiocese of Los Angeles. He replies to comments sent him at Locksley69@aol.com.)